The 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) kicked-off without its usual fanfare at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim, a town in North Goa on Friday but a Fijian striker gave newbies ATK Mohun Bagan the start they wanted.
Football may not have been of great quality, it was expected after most players did not play a competitive game for almost seven months, Kerala Blasters ‘hosted’ the newly christened ATK Mohun Bagan in the opening match.
An opportunistic strike from ATK Mohun Bagan’s Roy Krishna separated the teams as the Mariners registered their maiden win in the ISL.
For a man who had to quarantine for about 40 days, cleared around 10 COVID-19 tests and spent over 50 hours in flights to make it to Goa, Roy Krishna was on the ball Friday evening.
It hardly came as a surprise when Krishna pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the penalty box before firing in a well-controlled low shot to hand ATK Mohun Bagan the lead in the second half.
But who is Roy Krishna? How has he become a household for the Mariners?
Indian-origin Fijian in New Zealand
The 33-year-old Roy Krishna is a Fiji international who has spent most of his playing life in New Zealand before moving to the Kolkata-based ATK last season.
Roy Krishna started his Kiwi sojourn in 2008 with Waitakere United, a club that he played for five years. Though just 21, the then young striker proved his mettle in the New Zealand Football Championship as he led his team to five domestic titles. Scoring 71 goals during his time at Waitakere, the Fijian also won the Golden Boot in 2012-13.
His exploits in the league meant that the Roy Krishna was soon in the eyes of the scouts and it was here when Dutch club PSV Eindhoven came knocking on Roy Krishna’s doors.
However, the youngster decided against moving to Europe and signed for Auckland City FC, a champion side in the top division of Kiwi football, in 2013.
A year with the Auckland outfit, Roy Krishna found his way into the highly-competitive A-League as Wellington Phoenix roped him as an injury replacement for their main man Paul Ifill in 2014. It was here that the Fijian shone the brightest helping him rise to the club legend's status.
Be it his poacher’s instinct inside the box or the powerful drives from the top of the penalty area, Roy Krishna was a complete package that Wellington Phoenix relied on as they challenged the top teams in the A-League.
The coming years saw Roy Krishna, with 51 goals, overtake Paul Ifill as the club’s all-time top goal-scorer. He even bagged the Johnny Warren Medal, an award presented to the best footballer in the Australian domestic league, for the 2018-19 season.
But none of this could stop the Fijian from flying across oceans to a city his ancestors left over 140 years ago and join ATK for ISL 2019-20.
A proven goal-scorer with ATK
While there were doubts on Roy Krishna’s ability to recreate his magic in the ISL, where the game is vastly different from what one can find in the A-League, such inhibitions were soon put to rest once the Fijian hit the ground running.
With head coach Antonio Lopez Habas opting for an attacking 3-5-2 formation for the season, Roy Krishna along with his fellow Phoenix team-mate David Williams set the league on fire to help ATK to their third title.
The Fijian wrapped up his debut ISL season with 15 goals. And if his Friday’s performance is anything to go by, it won’t be a surprise if Roy Krishna goes on to better the numbers this year.
While his ability as a striker has never been in doubt, Roy Krishna’s time in Indian football has also seen him take up the mentor’s role in the team.
With ATK Mohun Bagan boasting of some talented youngsters in Manvir Singh, Jayesh Rane and Michael Soosairaj, the Fijian has been an influential figure in the dressing room often coming to the youngsters’ aid.
It’s a role that he’s played well in the past as well. Especially, with the Fijian team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games where he was included as one of the three over-aged players in the squad. Named the captain of the team, the striker also scored Fiji’s first-ever goal at the Olympic with a 10th-minute strike against Mexico.
The Mariners will be hoping that their main man continues his dominant run in ISL 2020-21 as well.
First goal-scorers from each ISL season
Season 1: Fikru Teferra for Atletico de Kolkata
Season 2: Jeje Lalpekhlua for Chennaiyin FC
Season 3: Katsumi Yusa for NorthEast United FC
Season 4: Ferrán Corominas for FC Goa
Season 5: Matej Poplatnik for Kerala Blasters FC
Season 6: Carl McHugh for ATK
Season 7: Roy Krishna for ATK Mohun Bagan